Nigeria keep up their habit of qualifying for the World Cup, having appeared in five of the last six editions, and on this occasion they’ve done so in some style. Having come up against Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria in their qualifying group, they booked their tickets to Russia with a game to spare.
In fact, they only lost one game in the qualifiers and that was a 3-0 result FIFA awarded Algeria after Nigeria fielded an ineligible player in Shehu Abdullahi during the 1-1 draw. Abdullahi failed to serve a one-game ban after receiving two yellow cards in the preceding qualifying games.
It’s their victory over Argentina – who will accompany them in Group D – in a friendly earlier this year though that has been most impressive. After going 2-0 down against the South American giants, the Super Eagles recovered in stunning fashion to secure a 4-2 win on Russian soil.
Under Gernot Rohr who took charge of the national team last year, Nigeria have turned a corner after failing to qualify for the previous two African Cup of Nations tournaments. The German tactician has incorporated several new young players and in doing so has managed to mould the team into a vibrant counter-attacking unit.
The searing pace and direct running of Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses in particular is key to the threat they pose, giving their attack the desired zip and ingenuity to hurt the opposition. The frontmen are ably supported by an energetic midfield packed with ball-winners.
Their defenders, while inexperienced, are capable and have forged a formidable back-line. However, it’s the composure and clever distribution of their skipper John Obi Mikel which makes the team tick. Since Rohr’s appointment, Nigeria have also grown into a tactically flexible team.
While favouring either a 4-3-3 or 4-2- 3-1 system, they utilised a 4-4-1-1 formation effectively in a 1-0 friendly win over Poland while their remarkable victory over Argentina was procured via the means of a flat 3-5-2 system. Nigeria have regularly participated in the tournament but they still have much to prove as their win over Bosnia in Brazil was their first at a World Cup since 1998.
The Leicester City man has been a mainstay in the side throughout their qualification campaign and beyond. He made more tackles than any other player in the Premier League this season and it’s that ball-winning ability which makes him pivotal to the counter-attacking system.
The 64-year-old has been a calming influence for the Super Eagles. The former Bordeaux coach has brought a clear direction and some much needed stability to the side after they had gone through seven managerial changes since the World Cup in Brazil.
John Obi Mikel
The Mikel that played it safe – and largely sideways – at Chelsea and the one which captains his nation are two very contrasting players. His range of passing comes to the fore with Nigeria as he dictates play and taps into his attacking instincts when venturing forward.
He has impressed on occasion at Arsenal but on the international stage, he has been a key player. Nigeria’s system suits the 22-year-old perfectly. He’s responded well to being afforded a prominent role and is making a name for himself as more than just Jay-Jay Okocha’s nephew.
KEY FACTS AND STATS
– In 2010, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan banned the national team from competing for two years due to embarrassment from poor performances.
– Ahmed Musa is the only Nigerian player to score more than one goal in a World Cup match.
– Sani Kaita remains the only player to be sent off for Nigeria at a World Cup – back in their maiden appearance in 1994.
– 4.2, tackles per game in the Premier League for Ndidi.
72 DEF 76 MID 75 ATT
World Cups competed at
6 (First in 1994)
World Cup record
P18, W5, D3, L10
Round of 16 (1994, 1998 & 2014)
P8, W5, D2, L1
Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna), Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United).
William Troost-Ekong, Abdullahi Shehu (both Bursaspor), Tyronne Ebuehi (Benfica), Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Porto), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea).
Mikel John Obi (Tianjin Teda), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Oghenekaro Etebo (CD Feirense), John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Joel Obi (Torino, Italy).
Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho (both Leicester), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone).
They face a tough group where Argentina and Croatia are favourites. difficult to see them making it into the knockout stages.
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